Relationship Under Seal at GOP-Friendly CPB
Kenneth Tomlinson -- the target of internal investigations within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the State Department -- was in regular communication with White House political advisor Karl Rove according to evidence contained within a sealed Inspector General report.
On Thursday, a disgraced Tomlinson was shown the door at the CPB two days after their IG issued a report detailing Tomlinson's efforts to impose a partisan agenda on PBS and other publicly funded programming.
He’s now under a spotlight at the State Department, related to allegations that he spent federal money for personal needs, improperly used board money and board employees to further his political meddling at the CPB and hired ghost employees or improperly qualified employees. If the accusations are substantiated, they could involve criminal violations, according to an article in today's New York Times.
In recent weeks, State Department investigators seized records and e-mail from the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- the State Department’s foreign propaganda agency. Tomlinson served as chair of both the BBG and CPB. According to the Times' report, State Department investigators have shared this material with the CPB Inspector General, including e-mail traffic between Tomlinson and his “close friend” Rove.
What the Rove-Tomlinson correspondence says remains to be seen -- at least by those outside the heavily partisan corridors of the CPB. The content of their e-mails could become public when the IG sends the final report to members of Congress mid-November.
President Bush remains under pressure to fire Rove, his closest and most trusted adviser, because of his role in discussing the identity of the CIA agent Valerie Plame with reporters. Rove's apparent involvement in the Tomlinson scandal could become a further embarrassment for a White House already against the ropes.
But Tomlinson’s newest troubles raise more questions than they answer. Central to his tampering with PBS and NPR programming is the issue of authority: Were Tomlinson’s efforts to spin media in favor of the White House directed from within the Bush administration itself? Were they legal? And if not, should investigators start sniffing around the West Wing?
Crimes and Cronies
Tomlinson acquaintance with Rove dates to the 1990s, when the two served on the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor agency to the board of governors. Rove has played a part in Tomlinson’s career throughout the last decade. In 2003 and 2004, Tomlinson worked with Rove to help kill a legislative proposal that would have made it more difficult to politically stack the CPB board.
How much of the Rove-Tomlinson correspondence the public will see, however, remains in question. In a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, CPB board members reviewed the IG’s report. Public advocacy organizations, including Free Press, called upon them to full disclose the report at that time – but were rebuffed.
In a response to a Free Press, CDD and Common Cause letter calling for the report to be made public immediately, CPB President Patricia Harrison and Board Chair Cheryl Halpern wrote that they would not open their meeting to the public because the materials required "confidential advice of counsel." Harrison and Halpern added that "premature" release of the IG report may be "harmful to the corporation's interest."
According to internal IG procedures, the board has the right to "review and comment" on IG reports. This review is incorporated into the final document.
Some suspect that this is what they intend to do. Others say that the report will be released intact -- including the Rove-Tomlinson emails; the board may include their responses to IG questions, as happens in GAO reports, but they cannot redact existing information.
Whatever comes of this, the evidence becomes critical now that Tomlinson’s actions – and his association with Rove – are part of a criminal inquiry.
It will also prove useful to understand the extent to which Karl Rove's tentacles reached into the core of public broadcasting.